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Let us take a long look at the place that may have saved countless lives over the years? The" Baths", that were in Battery Place! These baths were the playground for many children who were taught to swim and to survive in water, thus preparing them for any water bound problems that could occur as they played on our beaches and around our lochs as they grew up.
But firstly let us take a look at the building itself. It was, and still is very impressive. Over the years the Facade has changed quite a lot, since it was an aquarium. At the door entrance level you will see that there are two windows at either side, well I have an old postcard that shows that there was only one on either and they appear to be dummy windows, as there is no sign of frames or glass, and then in another old card that I only saw recently, they were unbricked and replaced with three windows and brought forward to the same line as the entrance door, and also the front was increased in height with the addition of another storey and also an alteraration to the basement. Now today it has changed again! To the left and right of the front door there are now two windows to each side The Tower that was above the front door has long since gone, as well as a lot more stonework. Many years ago the roof was replaced when it was giving problems. Yet when you look at the front of the building, gives the impression that it has changed very little as the stonework looks the same age and colour as the rest, which may mean that they may have stored a lot of the stonework from the original build or robbed Peter to pay Paul, thus saving on funds and giving the building that untouched look.
Enough of the exterior, lets take a dive inside and see what we can find. Pay your entrance fee and head downstairs to the changing rooms. What awaited you there was a wooden counter , and behind that was an array of dookits that had numbers on them which held a great amount of wire baskets which had the same corresponding numbers , from one to goodness knows how many. You were given one of these baskets from Mr Cassels the attendant, to put your clothes in. There was a large section for your clothes, and a smaller one for your shoes. Some came with rubber rings with the basket number on them that you put on your wrist or ankle in case your memory was bad, but over the years a lot of these rings did a vanishing trick. What we found was the best way to remember your basket, was to cover your clothes with your towel and remember the pattern or colour. Grab your basket and head for the cubicle, a quick change, take the basket with your belongs back, and make a dive up the stairs to the pool, only to hear a roar from Mr Cassels, not to run, and to come back down and go into the showers and wash yourself before you went near the pool. And to remember to turn them off when you were finished. Not for us were those timed showers that you have nowadays that you push the button and get hot water for a short period, no! we had to turn the water on and off ourselves, and if no one had been in for a while, then the water was freezing for the first minute or so, so you had to turn them on and keep out of the way until they warmed up These were the quickest showers that you ever had, as you were in a hurry to get to the pool, your skin was hardly wet, and when you left to go to the pool another roar would send you back in to wash properly. The grime off the back of your neck, the muck from between your toes removed with the help of the bar of Carbolic Soap. That is a smell that I will never forget, and when I go camping, that is the soap that I still use. For some reason I felt cleaner after a going over with it, compared to other varieties.The freedom that we had with a shower was fantastic, with hot water at your fingertips coming through the shower head and hitting your body with a good force. You may think I am silly to put so much praise on a thing that nearly every house has nowadays, but when I was young they were few and far between and houses had Galvanised baths that had to be filled by hand, or if you were very lucky to have your water heated with a coal fire, you could run a hose from the tap to the bath, if not kettles and pots were put on the gas cooker to fill it, and all your brothers and sisters would wash in the same water.) We are now ready to take a plunge in the pool. We head up the stairs, dip our feet in the small pool at the top, and there before you was an amazing mass of blue water that turned darker as you looked at the deep-end. For me this was the time that fear set in, (more like terror). I was not a water babe, far from it. I did not learn to swim until I was embarrassingly old, but I will not bore you with the details
This pool before you, and the steps with wooden seats made of teak , which were nearly white as they had been washed that often , and then towering above you at the deep-end were the Diving boards, one, three and five metres high solid boards and one and three metre springboards Impressive to look up at, and terrifying to look down from if you were on the high one. You were even higher than the balcony where people would sit and watch you shaking as you tried to pluck up courage to walk along the board. Halfway along the handrail ended, leaving you feeling helpless with nothing to hold on to. This was the turning point for many, and they decended to the lower levels with their heads bowed, hoping that they would have the courage to jump the next time. For those that got to the very edge of the board they would get a big fright as they looked down for the first time. Five metres is a long way down, but that is taken from the board to the water. you have to take into consideration the distance from the board to your eyes, which will add a good bit on to the drop depending on what height you are. Also, if the water is flat calm you will not see the surface, you will see the bottom of the pond at it's deepest part which was about another three metres down, so it is a daunting feat to throw yourself into fresh air and trying to keep straight and hit the water feet first, if not it could be very painful if you did a belly flapper. The smack as you landed would turn the tougest skin a bright red which lasted a long time. Well here we go! One small step for man ,but a very large one for a small boy, or girl. Into space for what seemed like ages, then an almighty splash and you were under the water and you ears were bursting with the pressure, arms and legs flailing as you tried to get to the surface, then you were there, you had done it and now you were on a high and headed up to do it many more times that day As you got more confidence with practice you would tuck your knees up and wrap your arms round them do what was called a Depth Charge, this would soak anyone within ten metres, but as they were all wearing cossies it did not matter, but it was good fun soaking the pool attendants who were wearing shorts and t-shirts. As you got better? then it was now the time to stop fooling around and learn to dive from the boards and also to swim properly and maybe get a few certificates on the way. The long swims were not the favourites as the water was very cold in days gone bye. If the water in the present leisure pool in high street was at the temperature that we had to endure, then I think the pool would be very quiet. The heated water came in at the shallow end , so it was the warmest area, which was good for the children, but as you neared the deep end it got colder and colder. In the winter time we would play at Tig just to keep ourselves warm, and also we had very frequent trips to the hot showers beside the pool. They did increase the temperature by quite a bit by the time that I was taking my own children there and it was most pleasant to swim in it and stay there until long after your hands and feet had gone all wrinkly.
As you went from strength to strength you would perhaps become interested what older people were doing with some strange looking equipment that we now know as masks and snorkels. These were great inventions, as they enabled you to see under the water and breath at the same time. One try and I was hooked, and it was not very long till myself and my friends who taught me to swim, were members of the "Isle of Bute Sub Aqua Club". But that is another story
First Published in the Buteman 2003